Nova golf excels despite coaching changes

The Nova Southeastern golf dynasty is bigger than one coach or one athlete.

Former coach Kevin Marsh, who led the Sharks’ women’s team to three straight Division II national titles, resigned last season in order to pursue other opportunities.

His best golfer, Sandra Changkija, graduated and recently earned her LPGA tour card. She won four consecutive National Player of the Year honors at Nova.

Also graduated was Taylor Collins, who is now playing on the Futures Tour.

But even after losing two great players, the Sharks have somehow managed to get better.

Associate head coach Amanda Brown was promoted to head coach and led Nova to its fourth straight national title last week.

Nova’s Abbey Gittings, a junior from Tamworth, England, fought off painful back spasms to win the national individual title. She started the final day in second place but finished strong, firing two birdies in the final four holes.

On the men’s side, Garrett Runion was promoted from assistant to head coach, and led Nova to its first-ever men’s golf national title.

“Winning both championships in the same year is quite an accomplishment,” Brown said. “It was especially cool since we both won in the same city [Louisville, Ky.] and both teams were able to go to dinner together after the third round.”

Brown was correct about it being a special feat — it was just the fourth time in NCAA history that one school earned the men’s and women’s national golf championships in the same year, joining Arizona State (1990, Division I), Florida Southern (2000, Division II), and Methodist (2010, Division III).

What must be frightening for opponents is the fact that Nova’s top three women and top three men are set to return next season.

Of the five Nova men who took part in the 5-0 match-play sweep over Chico State in the final, only one — Ben Vertz of Coral Springs — is a senior. The other four are sophomores Ben Taylor and Mitch Farrer of England, freshman Oscar Lengden of Sweden and sophomore Richard Celia of Colombia.

The Nova women, who beat a 12-team field, finishing 20 strokes ahead of second-place Florida Southern, will return Gittings and freshmen Daniela Ortiz (Mexico) and Liliana Cammisa (Argentina), who tied for third place. The only loss to graduation will be Claudia Wolf (Austria), who finished in 44th place.

In addition, Brown is excited about an incoming recruiting class that includes Linnea Johansson, who plays for the Swedish national team and is expected to be in the running for National Freshman of the Year.

The men, meanwhile, have signed elite recruit Hunter O’Mahony, who recently won the Florida State Junior Amateur title.

“I think it’s slowly becoming well known that we have a good program,” Brown said. “We’re always battling the (Division II) thing. But I think DII is a great place to be because we have an excellent balance between academics and athletics.”

Barry Roundup

The Bucs, who also compete in Division II, finished fourth in the nation in women’s golf (stroke play) and made it to the national semifinals in women’s tennis and the national quarterfinals in men’s golf (match play). The softball and men’s tennis teams were beaten in the regional rounds.